“I was sitting alone on my white couch, scrolling on Instagram during the lockdown. It had been about two months of living alone, adjusting to life during a pandemic, and my eye caught a post a friend had shared. It was a picture of someone playing baseball with two little boys and both boys had hearts covering their faces. I got curious and wondered why their faces were covered. I clicked some more and soon learned these boys were in foster care and the post was about Foster Awareness Month. I quickly read as much as possible from her posts and my brain started thinking, ‘I wonder if I could do that?’ My life had not turned out the way I thought it would have. Not in a bad way, just in a different way. I found myself single and childless at 37, and that’s not what I would have necessarily planned.
After reading all of her posts, I grabbed my laptop and googled ‘foster care Nashville,’ and the Department of Children’s Services’ website popped up. Ten minutes later, I was signed up for an informational meeting, and about three months after that, I was a fully certified Tennessee State foster parent. I really couldn’t handle the thought of kids being at home during the lockdown and not being in a safe/loving environment. I knew I had a little extra space in my apartment and a lot of extra love in my heart, and I just knew I wanted to help.
The Moment That Changed Everything
About six weeks after I was certified, I did respite care (respite is short-term relief care for a child who already has a foster family) for a 13-year-old boy for four nights. Two weeks later, I got a call for a permanent placement for a one-week-old baby girl. My phone rang at 2:30 p.m. as I was sitting at my desk working, and I had no idea one phone call would change my life forever. About six hours later, the social worker texted me she was at the bottom of my apartment building with the baby. I nervously went down to the ground floor and walked up to a car holding this tiny, perfect, darling girl. It’s weird when you are in a moment and fully aware this moment is going to change your life forever. I knew as I walked to the car and saw her strapped into the car seat that my life would be marked by this moment forever.
She was in a little yellow nightgown onesie, the kind that’s gathered at the bottom, and it was way too big for her. I signed some paperwork, got her out of the car, and the case worker said she’d eaten about an hour earlier. That was it. She handed me a diaper bag that had been packed by a local church and we walked away. The whole exchange took about two minutes. It was surreal.
Thankfully, my best friend had flown into town two days earlier, and another friend had come over with baby supplies, so they were with me as I walked this little girl into my home and into our new life together.
Adjusting To Fostering
The goal of foster care is always reunification, which was the plan in this case, and I supported it. I won’t say a lot of specific details about Gigi’s story or birth family because ultimately that is her story to tell, and I will fiercely protect it until she has a voice in wanting to share it.
The beginning was full of lots of appointments with doctors, the health department, and visits with her birth mom and DCS workers. Becoming an instant solo parent of a newborn combined with all that foster care entails, those first few weeks were a blur. We bonded quickly and I can truly say I’ve never been happier.
I knew instantly when I saw her in that car, I would love her forever. No matter if she was with me for one week or one year, it didn’t matter. I just knew a part of my heart would be hers. For safety reasons, you can’t share children’s names on social media, so I knew I’d want a nickname. Her birth name started with a G, so my friends and I quickly landed on ‘Gigi,’ which is what I called my Grandma growing up, and I loved that family tie.
The longer Gigi was with me, the harder it got to think about her leaving me. When a child is in your care, you treat them as if they are your own, and you love them the same way. Often I would cry as I laid her in her crib not knowing if that might be the last time. Foster care is hard and complicated, harder than I thought it would be. The true ache of all the unknowns was hard to comprehend. If she did reunify with her birth family, that’s the goal. That’s what I believe is best. If a birth family is a safe and healthy option, they should absolutely be reunited with them. The hardest part for me was all of the unknowns and the lack of control. The only thing I could control was loving Gigi and her birth family well.
Learning To Love Her Birth Family
As soon as I found myself in this new situation, I started following some other foster moms on Instagram. One of them was Jamie Finn of Foster The Family. On her page, she shares ways you, as a foster parent, can support birth families during the fostering process. One of the things she suggested was bringing a framed photo of the child to the birth parent(s) at a visit. When you hear about kids in foster care, it’s really easy to demonize and be critical of the birth family. At least it was for me… until I met them and God started to change my heart.
The more I got to know Gigi’s birth family, the more I realized there was no room for being critical or not being supportive. And the more God reminded me my only job was to love them. This was their child. I had the honor and privilege of loving this child as my own on their behalf. If the tables were turned, how would I want to be treated? How would I want to be interacted with? Also, if I was in a crisis and needed someone to watch my child so I could get help or get my life together, I have multiple friends/family I could go to. What I’ve learned is that most of these birth families have no support systems. They have no one to turn to in crisis to help them, and that’s often why kids end up in care. That’s why organizations that focus on prevention are so key and so important.
I took Jamie’s advice, and for one of the visits early on, I printed and framed a photo of sweet little Gigi and gave it to her birth mom. She was grateful to have that and thanked me as she left.
Moving Toward Adoption
After about 9 months, reunification with her birth family was no longer an option, and Gigi entered full state custody which meant I could adopt her. I think about that framed photo often. I wonder where it is, and I’m so glad I could follow the advice of other foster moms who have gone before me.
Now here’s the thing. I had really grand plans on how this whole foster thing was going to go. I would have a child in my care for a few weeks or a few months, then they would reunify with their birth family and I would get back to my ‘normal life’ for a few weeks and then maybe another kid would come along, etc.
Here’s one thing I did know: I did not want to adopt as a single person. I don’t know why, but I always thought I would do that when I had a husband and house and was ‘settled.’ Ha, joke’s on me. But I guess that’s been a major theme of my life: life doesn’t always go the way I planned it. As a great cosmic joke – my best friend and I started a whole podcast (listen here) about that very topic years ago. Again, joke’s on me.
Here’s another thing I did know – I loved Gigi from the moment my eyes saw her and I absolutely could not imagine my life without her in it. So, when she was 11 months old, I, along with close friends and family, stood before a judge and he made official what I’d felt in my heart for a long time. This bright light placed in my arms at a week old was my daughter forever. We share a last name and I will get to love her as my own until I breathe my last breath.
Advice For Future Foster Parents
Did I want to become a solo parent? No. Is it harder than I thought it would be? Yes. But, it’s absolutely worth it. When people ask me how I do it, there are three things I can point to:
- Friends and family who step up and fill in as bonus parents/aunts/uncles and love Gigi and me so well.
- A foster community support group and a church who literally wrap around foster families like me.
- Most importantly, my faith. Knowing there is a God who loves me and loves these kids is what keeps me going.
There are over 400,000 kids in foster care right now as you are reading this. If you feel at all inclined or wonder if you have what it takes – let this be your sign. Find an informational class, search for foster families in your area, talk to someone…. just take the next step. In my foster care training classes they talked about the importance of every child having ONE caring adult. Just one. That was the statistic for a child thriving. One caring adult. Maybe you could be that adult for someone?
These days, Gigi is walking and running and dancing her way through life. She keeps me busy at almost 20 months old and she is pure joy on two feet. She waves and says hi to everyone driving or walking by and loves to give ‘hugs and kisses.’ I really feel like she is truly a bright light and her life is going to have an impact on many people. It already has on mine. I feel so grateful I made a crazy decision to say yes to foster care and that God brought us together. I am beyond grateful to have the chance to live this beautiful life with my daughter.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate Rapier of Nashville, TN. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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